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Child Custody Following the Death of a Parent

Who Gets Child Custody After a Custodial Parent Dies?

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Portrait of mother with son (6-7)
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When a custodial parent dies, the non-custodial parent and other interested parties wonder who will receive custody of the child and what's the proper procedure to follow with the family court to obtain child custody. Here is some information about child custody and court procedure after the death of a parent:

Who Gets Custody After a Custodial Parent Dies?

The question of who should receive custody of a child whose custodial parent has died is a difficult one. Here are some possible guardians:

  • Non-custodial parent, if paternity has been acknowledged
  • Grandparents
  • Other relatives, such as aunts, uncles or cousins
  • Family friends such godparents or neighbors
  • The state - In the event that there are no other options, a child may become a ward of the state and be sent to a foster home.

Paternity and a Custodial Parent's Death

The non-custodial parent may be entitled to child custody if a custodial parent dies if paternity has been established. An acknowledgment of paternity requires:


States have specific procedures for acknowledging paternity of a child. For information about specific state procedures, refer to your state's child custody guidelines.

How a Third Party Should Obtain Custody of a Child

A third party is entitled to third party child custody, if a custodial parent dies under the following circumstances:

  • There are no closer relatives requesting child support
  • There is an established relationship between the child and the third party
  • Third party custody serves the best interests of the child

It is the court's decision to decide whether or not to award child custody to a third party after the death of a parent.

It is very unfortunate for a child and all involved parties when a custodial parent dies. It's equally difficult for loved ones to figure out who should obtain custody of a child whose custodial parent has died. For more information about child custody after death, refer to the child custody guidelines of your state or speak with a qualified attorney in your state.

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